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Congress is considering legislation that would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven days of paid sick leave per employee per year, an expansion of the FMLA that a coalition of HR and business groups immediately decried.

The Healthy Families Act, introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), would allow employees to accrue an hour of paid sick time off for every 30 hours worked, up to seven days off for a full-time employee.

The law would allow employees to use paid time off to deal with their own illness, as well as that of children, spouses, parents or other loved ones.

The National Coalition to Protect Family Leave quickly called for Congress to reject the legislation. A statement by the coalition, of which the Society for Human Resource Management is a member, called the law ill-advised in general and particularly bad for small businesses fighting their way through the recession.

“Congress could not pick a worse time to impose untested and costly new mandates on American employers,” the statement said. “Thousands of American companies are already struggling to avoid layoffs, meet payroll and maintain benefits during the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression. The costs associated with this mandate will force companies to increase layoffs, reduce wages and cut important employee benefits.”

Other business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, also criticized the bill. They worry that the Healthy Families Act would harm small businesses in ways the FMLA does not. The FMLA applies only to organizations with 50 or more employees, and requires unpaid—not paid—leave.

The National Coalition to Protect Family Leave statement called the legislation unnecessary, noting that 82% of employers already provide some paid sick leave.

But language in the legislation states that less than half of private-sector workers receive paid sick leave, and that three-fourths of low-wage workers lack the benefit.

Two jurisdictions—the District of Columbia and the city of San Francisco—already have laws on the books mandating paid sick leave. Several states are debating similar measures.

As Compensation & Benefits was going to press, various congressional committees were reviewing the legislation. The bill numbers are H.R. 2460 in the House and S.1152 in the Senate.

Versions of the Healthy Families Act introduced in years past have died in committee.

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